Sunday, August 15, 2010

U.S. electricity blackouts skyrocketing

The 'Easy Button'

Carvallo jokes about the so-called "Easy Button" at Austin Energy. It's not really a big red button on the wall, but it is a mechanism that allows an operator to control tens of thousands of home thermostats.

"Austin is two to three years ahead of everybody else," said Carvallo, now chief strategy officer for the smart grid software firm Grid Net.

He points to a volunteer program that offers free thermostats to customers who allow the utility to remotely control their air conditioners during specific months and hours. This way, thousands of power-gulping air conditioners can be cycled off for a short time when electricity was needed elsewhere.

By summer's end, Austin expects to begin enabling its 700,000 streetlights to be turned "on and off with a flip of a switch," saving $340,000 in electricity each year, and eliminating 200 tons of carbon dioxide air pollution.

Replacing old-style electric meters with "smart meters" is often described as the first step in creating a smart grid. All 400,000 of Austin's meters are smart meters.

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